Augusto Genina, Lo squadrone bianco (1936)

Mario Camerini, Il grande appello (1936)

Goffredo Alessandrini, Luciano Serra pilota (1938)


These films are prime examples of Italian colonial propagandistic production. Genina’s Lo squadrone bianco was shot partly on location in the the Libyan Desert. The film tells the story of Lieutenant Mario Ludovici (Antionio Centa) who is redeemed from his lazy, disengaged life in Italy by fighting the Libyan rebels. A narrative of redemption also characterizes Il grande appello since the protagonist Giovanni Bertani (Camillo Pillotto), the manager of a hotel in Djibouti who illegally sells weapons to the Abyssinian army, gains a new moral integrity after meeting his son who is a Fascist soldier fighting in Ethiopia. Similarly, Luciano Serra (Amedeo Nazzari) is a character who uses the Ethiopian war to change his life: after abandoning his family to try his luck in America, he goes missing. Eventually, Luciano enlists in the Italian army under a new name and saves the life of his son, who had become a pilot.

Main Principles

  1. The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts

  2. Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths

  3. Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity


Towards the end of Lo squadrone bianco, a key scene portrays the main character Mario Ludovici meeting his former girlfriend Cristina after he has spent a long time in a military outpost in Tripolitania. Ludovici, who decided to join Italian army after Cristina’s refusal to have a ‘traditional’ relationship with him, states inflexibly ‘Mario non esiste più’, spurning the idea of going back to Italy together with Cristina. Ludovici’s refusal is a metaphorical condemnation of the liberal-bourgeois way of life when compared to Fascist virtues, and the colonial landscape makes the protagonist aware of his functional role within the Fascist imperial myth.

The redemption of the main character is a trait common to all three films. Imperial conquest represents the ultimate fulfilment of this process, especially in Il grande appello with the protagonist Giovanni Bertani sacrificing his life to facilitate the Italian victory over Ethiopian army. Bertani’s death is caused by his active involvement in the explosion of the arsenal he is smuggling with the Ethiopian army; the explosion stands as an aestheticized hymn to the redeeming power of the imperial myth. Such violent sequences are also a recurring feature of Luciano Serra pilota, in which futurist elements are relied upon throughout to convey Fascist imperial modernity. In cinematic terms, Luciano Serra displays a variety of innovative aerial shots. For instance, one of the most remarkable scenes portrays a plane nosediving before that cutting to a sequence recorded from the perspective of the airplane itself, presenting the viewer with a violent and displacing effect. These film tropes condense modernity, speed, and dynamism as well as the idea that the imperial myth can overcome human limits.

A pedagogically-oriented temporal dimension in these films symbolizes the building of the imperial New Man: the past-dimension is the lazy and immoral life of the main characters before they engage with the imperial myth; the present sees the protagonists’ redemption in that their subjectivity is dissolved in the broader and mythopoeic construction of the empire. The protagonists’ redemption, and in case the case of Luciano Serra and Il grande appello, that of their sons, thus heralds a Fascist colonial modernity in which individuals are organic parts of the imperial myth.


Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. 2015. Italian Fascism’s Empire Films. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Caprotti, Federico. 2008. ‘Technology and Geographical Imagination. Representing Aviation in 1930s Italy.’ Journal of Cultural Geography 25 (2): 181-205.

Courriol, Marie France. 2014. ‘Documentary Strategies and Aspect of Realism in Italian Colonial Cinema.’The Italianist 34 (2): 122-141.

Palumbo, Patrizia (ed.). 2003. A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post- Unification to the Present. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Gianmarco Mancosu